Out & About: ‘Oliver!’ is classic musical theater

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As we move toward the end of November, the performing arts calendar segues toward Christmas. Let’s start this week’s look at my picks of the tix with two shows that have nothing to do with Christmas, then segue into three that do.

“Oliver!” is an exemplar of classic musical theater. In South Portland, Lyric Music Theater just opened a fine community production of this adaptation of Charles Dickens’ celebrated novel.

Dark Star Orchestra is a Grateful Dead tribute band that will play the State Theatre Dec. 4.

The annual “Broadway at Good Theater” will feature some Christmas music in a show that generally focuses on musicals from the 1960s.

Portland’s first big show of the Christmas season is Maine State Ballet’s annual production of “The Nutcracker,” which opens this weekend.

DaPonte String Quartet gets into the Christmas spirit this Sunday in Brunswick.


Musical adaptations of the big novels of Charles Dickens have been few and generally unsuccessful, but the major exception to that dictum is “Oliver!” Created by Lionel Bart, who penned both script and score, “Oliver!” was the sensation of the 1962 Broadway season.

Among its many honors, “Oliver!” won the coveted top three Tony Awards that year: Best Book, Best Score and Best Musical.

Lyric Music Theater is currently running fine community production of this classic show, which features more than a dozen children in a story that revolves around the title character, a boy who joins a gang of young criminals in London in the early 1800s.

Actors playing two of the adult roles get my nod for best in the show. Lauren Bamford plays the doomed lover of the heinous villain, while Chris Newcomb delights as the seriocomic leader of the gang. I should also mention Ashleigh St. Pierre’s fine comic turn in one of the smaller roles.

Lyric Music Theater, 176 Sawyer Road in South Portland, presents “Oliver!” through Dec. 7 with 8 p.m. performances Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Call 799-1421.

Dark Star Orchestra

The Grateful Dead disbanded 19 years ago, but the iconic band lives on via a tribute act that aims to recreate the excitement of original fivesome’s live performances: Dark Star Orchestra.

The embodiment of psychedelic rock, the Grateful Dead played from 1965 until 1995. Over those three decades, the Dead played a total of 2,318 live performances. Dark Star Orchestra recently passed an important numerical milestone by playing its 2,319th performance.

Recreating historic Grateful Dead set lists, and intermittently crafting their own, Dark Star Orchestra offers a continually evolving artistic outlet within the Grateful Dead’s musical canon. The ensemble has earned high praise, including encomiums from all surviving members of the iconic band.

The Dark Star Orchestra will perform at 7 p.m. Dec. 4 at the State Theatre, 609 Congress St. in Portland. Call 956-6000.

‘Broadway at Good Theater’

Musicals from the 1960s provide the common theme for the 2014 edition of “Broadway at Good Theater,” an annual revue at Portland’s St. Lawrence Arts Center.

Directed by Good Theater co-founder Brian Allen, this year’s program has been drawn from hit shows such as “The Sound of Music,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Hello Dolly,” “Man of LaMancha,” “Camelot,” “Mame,” “Sweet Charity,” “Bye Bye Birdie,” “The Fantasticks” and “Cabaret.”

A cast of 17 will be headed by two Broadway veterans. Aaron Ramey has appeared in “The Bridges of Madison County,” “Young Frankenstein” and “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” while Christopher A. Pecoraro has been seen in “Miss Saigon,” “Les Miserables” and “Passion.”

Although “Broadway at Good Theater” is not billed as a Christmas show, musical theater has long been a fertile source of popular songs about the holiday, and Allen won’t miss the opportunity to showcase these tunes.

“Broadway at Good Theater” runs Dec. 3-7 at the St. Lawrence Arts Center, 76 Congress St. (top of Munjoy Hill) for six performances: Dec. 3 at 7 p.m., Dec. 4 at 7 p.m., Dec. 5 at 7:30 p.m., Dec. 6 at 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., and Dec. 7 at 2 p.m. Call 885-5883.

‘The Nutcracker’

As predictable as leftover turkey for dinner, the Saturday after Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the Christmas season in the performing arts, and one of Maine’s biggest shows is Maine State Ballet’s annual production of “The Nutcracker.”

Now in its 38th season, always helmed by MSB’s artistic director Linda MacArthur Miele, “The Nutcracker” is a terpsichorean spectacular that boasts a cast of hundreds of dancers and orchestra musicians plus the biggest, most elaborate sets that can fit into Merrill Auditorium – the Christmas tree towers 40 feet above the stage.

It’s intimately connected with Maine State School for the Performing Arts of Falmouth, which numbers approximately 500 students, who range from three-year-olds in a pre-dance program to college-age ballerinas. Virtually all MSB’s performers are drawn from the school’s instructors and students.

I’ve seen MSB’s production half a dozen times over the past 20-plus years, and I’m always delighted.

Maine State Ballet presents seven performances of “The Nutcracker” at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall: Nov. 29 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., Nov. 30 at 2 p.m., Dec. 5 at 7 p.m., Dec. 6 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., and Dec. 7 at 2 p.m. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

DaPonte String Quartet

A classical string quartet wearing Santa Claus hats? That may look odd, but the real oddity of this Sunday’s Christmas concert by the DaPonte String Quartet will be the instruments. For its annual holiday concert, the DSQ will morph into an all-electric ensemble, performing on custom-made instruments from NS Design, a Midcoast Maine company.

With assistance from NS Design’s team, the DSQ has been exploring various electronic effects that add unique and vibrant tonal colors to particular works of music.

“We’re working on a digital delay, to make the music of [Giovanni] Gabrieli sound like it is bouncing off the walls of a huge cathedral, like San Marco in Venice, where he used to play,” explains violinist Ferdinand Liva.

The programming will be eclectic as well as electric. Many pieces have been transcribed for electric strings just for this occasion. An example is Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man,” which normally features brass and percussion. The electric string version will certainly be a notable first for Maine — if not the world.

Catch the DaPonte String Quartet at 3 p.m. Nov. 30 at the Unitarian-Universalist Church, 1 Middle St. in Brunswick. Call 529-4555.

Sidebar Elements

The criminal subculture of London 200 years ago is the setting for the classic musical “Oliver!” Lyric Music Theater is offering a fine community production of this show, which is based on the novel by Charles Dickens.